I am looking to get a cnc machine for engraving and inlay work in wood. I have narrowed the field to the X-Carve and the Stepcraft 420. I have been following the forums and I have watched over a 100 videos and I have to admit, while I really like the X-Carve, I am being swayed toward the Stepcraft. I would like to get some comments from X-Carve users to direct me to the pros and cons of each setup. I would also appreciate any other options that may be available.
Easy to compare. X-Carve is three times bigger then Stepcraft 420. You have bigger work space, both same 2.5D application. Almost same money. X-Carve is open source, you can put any upgrades you want. X-Carve community is very nice, we always help each other. No machine without problems. But always most important one is X-Carve owner Inventables team has bigger hearth then any selling companies I’ve seen yet. We have fun, come and join.
The stepcraft has a much smaller workspace, so unless you know exactly what you will be making for the next few years and know everything will fit in that space I would think twice.
I also know that being able to upgrade the motors, the spindle, the electronics, software etc… has been wonderful. As you begin using a CNC you will quickly run into limits that keep you from doing what you want. So being able to make changes is almost a requirement.
Finally, having a company like Inventables which stands behind the machine, provides constant improvements and new features is amazing. I don’t know anything about the Stepcraft company, except they are in Germany so support may be more difficult.
@paulkaplan - Though ridiculously expensive, I thought you might like to see their offering of “system held tools.” Might be food for thought for future line extention. A cheap pen would be cool and a more reasonable drag knife and 3D print head. The fourth axis would be SUPER cool but would require more than Easel upgrades.
Thanks Alan, I would be looking for something in between the 12x12 and the 31". I don’t have the space. I like the community aspect but I am a little concerned there isn’t a warranty on the X-Carve, Stepcraft is 2 years. I do like the idea of the the inventables team caring!!
Allen, I would agree that upgrades would be important when future needs arise. I did contact the Stepcraft people through their “contact form” and I got nothing back. That was the US site and their website has a bunch of broken and incomplete links. Not very impressive. German site is great but when it is google translated you miss some info.
Paul, I love the “extras” but I haven’t seen any mention of the fourth axis.
One of my concerns about the X-Carve are the tracks, belt drives an wheels. I notice in every video they quickly get clogged with cuttings and the wheels brake down. The Stepcraft’s rails,rollers and drive screw are enclosed and very little debris affects the travel of the gantry. As well the the guide wheels are brass. The only issue is that the rails, drive screw and wheels need to be regularly cleaned and greased. Maybe with the X-carve you could make a shield and perhaps the videos don’t use a dust shoe for the sake of seeing the cutter work. Another draw back is that I would be working pretty much exclusively with hardwood and the ability to use a 1/4" bit would speed up my workflow. The Stepcraft only uses 1/8" bits. The X-Craft spindle can take bits upto 1/4" as well as the optional routers!
Have any of you experienced any trouble with the belts and wheels??
I’m new to the personal CNC world and am not familiar with Stepcraft, so I can’t really do any comparisons. All I can do is give you my honest opinion of the X-Carve with my experience of many years as a machinist and mechanic.
The thing I like the most about the X-Carve, besides the customer support, is the fact that you can make so many modifications to it so easily. The ability to turn this personal toy maker into a machine that might be able to achieve .003" accuracy or better, for its relatively low price, is just astonishing to me. I’m used to prices skyrocketing when we want .005" accuracy on a component. The ability to use 1/4" bits on the basic spindle, swap out the spindle with a router, make stiffness modifications, and add various electronics (like touchplates) without paying an arm and a leg is also invaluable to me since I intend to use it for a LONG time to come.
Regarding your concerns about the belts and dust buildup, they are valid. I prototyped a dust shoe for the basic spindle tonight and noticed a small amount of MDF dust on the belt, but it was easy enough to vacuum before it built up. I’m also designing a shield that will run the length of the Y-axis on both sides, which should significantly help reduce dust buildup in the first place. Overall though, dust shoes and shields shouldn’t replace the operator’s attention. Dust shouldn’t build up on belts to the point of causing problems unless the operator is letting it happen. It can be minimized with engineering controls, but I see it as less of a design issue and more of an operator awareness issue.
Personally, I would not go with a machine that requires a lot of grease on external surfaces, especially if there is dust. It will get mixed into the grease and be a lot harder and messier to thoroughly clean than dry loose dust.
I’ve had one problem with the belts, but that may be because I am working on a tensioning procedure and may have had the tension set too high. One belt broke, and Inventables sent me more belting for free, no questions asked. I’ve decreased the tension on all 3 belts, and ran the X-Carve for about 4 hours today with no problems.
I hope this helped answer some of your questions. Inventables has engineers that pop up in these forums all the time, if you have any specific questions all you need to do is ask (and maybe tag @paulkaplan). They have been extremely helpful as I work through my X-Carve learning curve.
Thanks Rob, a lot of good valid points to ponder. You will have to google Stepcraft to see their machine. The lead screws and gantry rollers are almost fully enclosed so little dust gets at them but the grease and the dust would get messy! I am in the “figuring it all out” stage as there are so many options and I being a minimalist type, don’t want a lot of bells and whistles. I will not be machine parts (I know, I say that now) I primarily want to create a pattern in a board and add the corresponding inlay to it and maybe some engraving. The boards will not exceed 12" X 18" as that is the limit on my woodworking machinery (at the moment). Very similar to David in the video is doing with his Shapeoko.
I also wonder about the belts stretching and the accuracy compared to a lead screw system. One thing I may want to add in the future would be a laser etching option as well.
You definitely don’t need high accuracy cuts for inlays since any error is inherently cancelled out between the two boards. I haven’t done any inlays yet, but I’ve been very impressed with David’s work and look forward to doing some after I get my cart all set up.
I haven’t noticed any problems with belt stretching so far, I’ve only had to adjust them the second day and they stay about the same tension after that. They seem to be stiff enough to prevent localized stretching, I would be more concerned about slop and play in a lead screw.
I’ll look into Stepcraft and see if I can theorize any pros and cons vs. the X-Carve. It’ll be hard to say though, without actually having it to play with.
Screw whip. Once lead screws get longer than 20 or so inches they start to suffer from screw whip which leads to tiny but noticible wavy cuts. For years I was looking to convert my machine to belt or chain drive - then Inventables came along! I have the 1000mm machine and while it is bigger than my old 24x36 machine - I still find times when an even bigger machine would be helpful. FWIW - I haven’t tightened my belts in a few months and I am pretty lazy about cleaning the belts, pullies, etc. I have not had a problem. Plus, I am dragging a heavy Hitachi router on my x-carve with no problem - that takes up to 1/2 collets. My vote would be x-carve - though if it didn’t exist there are plenty of other options available here in the U.S. with good customer service. You might also check out: buildyourcnc.com. They have a great community as well.
So, another thing I noticed about the Stepcraft CNC, the X and Y axis rails are made up of extruded aluminum but instead of a rectangle shape they are more of a c-channel. The roller guides are incorporated into the rail. I am not sure if that design would be as strong as the rectangle extrusion?? I think they could have a tendency to flex. The maintenance instructions say all the rails and screws need to be cleaned and greased every ten hours. Seems like a lot of work…thoughts anyone?
Here in the UK I was lucky to see a few of the Stepcraft machines being used at a crafting fair a few months ago. They were being demonstrated by their rep in the UK.
I was interested in the Stepcraft 600 myself but I went for the X-Carve 500mm instead, and had never seen one in the flesh. I hope that gives you an idea of how impressed I was in the Stepcraft.
To be fair, the Stepcraft system is nice and well made. But to me it feels “hobbyist” and the X-Carve feels “semi-pro”.
And if you are pushing bits through hardwoods, want to add lasers etc. in the future, X-Carve is an obvious choice to me. But that is only my opinion.
I guess the bottom line is this. Fairly closed system with difficult to get support but a ready to go machine or a very open system, mind blowing level of support and a machine you build and tune yourself? That I’m afraid is a decision only you can make.
Thanks Ian, I see what you mean about the “hobbyist” feel although I have never seen one up close. I am also looking at the 500mm model. I wanted to have a fair assessment of both machines but the Stepcraft US people have yet to return any questions I have. I could contact the community in Germany but if the customer service I will need will be coming from the US, then I think their lack of communication is a game changer. Thanks for your input!!
This is an old thread, but I just have to comment that the single belt on the X-axis is very much prone to localized stretching. I was making a small series of throw levers for rifle scopes out of POM-C and I was milling 4.7 mm holes in them to accommodate steel threaded inserts and screws for mounting them. The piece (that was milled from a sheet of POM-C) I was milling was mounted in a machine vice. I milled a hole for the threaded insert, turned the piece and milled a recess for the screw head. Very soon the the holes turned oval in shape. They were as bad as 4.0x4.7mm. This is yet another major design flaw in a series of major design flaws we call the X-Carve. Flexing X-axis, flexing lowest bidder V-wheels, flexing belts… Had I known what a POS this kit is, I would have bought something with proper linear bearings and lead screws.
Thanks for the update. Since I posted this thread I have decided that I would build my own as opposed to getting a commercial brand. I decided that this would end up as more of a toy rather than a bonified tool for my shop. My research pointed out the maintenance issues, slipping and stretching belts, failing wheels etc. as well as the time to “watch” the process. My original intent was to use this for inlays on my cutting boards to add and extra element to my designs. I made a domino tile board with hand inlaid dots and priced the board accordingly and it never sold. This was a confirmation that my area will support regular designs but not boards with extra “wow” factor. So I saved myself $2,000. I could benefit more from a new oscillating belt sander! On a side note many of the woodworkers I know that got the free X-carve in exchange for an “honest review” (which were mostly positive) have shelved, sold or given away their X-Carves!
It’s no secret that I was one of the ones that got it free, but I still love the X-Carve. It’s definitely a hobby machine, serious production or major projects will require upgrades. However, for projects where absolute accuracy isn’t extremely critical, the machine works well. Even when accuracy starts to drop a little bit, projects like inlays can still be done since the error is spread to both pieces and somewhat cancels out.
You’ve also got to keep in mind that belts will stretch and get worn, just like tires. It’s a common maintenance item on anything belt-driven. Using screw drives would be nice, but would drive the price point up.
Overall, it is what it is. Hobby-priced, hobby-sized. It’ll get many jobs done, but will require upgrades to do some things or to do them faster and more accurate. It’s not for production or constant use. And it’s a complex mechanical device that needs attention to stay in top shape. It may not be a good fit for some people, which is fine.